A Tale of Two Teams

by EJN Comments (2) Articles, Commentary

A hot topic right now is the USATF-NE road grand prix series, more specifically both the way the schedule turned out this year and conflicts with other association series. Let’s examine these issues from the perspectives of two very different teams. Team A is a scrappy team, with lots of heart and maybe not so much depth. Even if it means doubling up on weekend races every now and then, they’ll somehow have a full squad on the line for the next big team race. They’ll still shoot for PR’s, but grinding it out on a regular basis is just as important to them. Team B couldn’t have a more different approach: a bigger roster with runners looking to run elite times, some of those placing more of an emphasis on racing well over racing often. But that’s okay, because of the team’s depth Quentin Cassidy can sit out the next grand prix race and Jerry Mizner will show up and pick up the slack.

So how do you come up with a slate of races that works for both types of teams? Scheduling, etc for the series is a complex issue but at the root of that is the philosophy of it. Is it a long battle of attrition (think Team A)? Or is it shorter match up runners at their peak, firing on all cylinders (think Team B)? Personally I think it should be the latter, but many people think it should be the former (which is sort of the way it is now). There’s no wrong answer, which is why it’s so damn tricky.

Team A seems well suited for a series, especially one with a heavy team competition element to it. The preferred method of Team B (spread out the peak performance races) is appropriate for championship races. But since we have a series of championship races, just what can we do?!

For one, the road series is probably too long. In fact, it’s all too much! What an embarrassment of riches we have here in New England. Consider the current workload:

XC: 5 events between 9/11 and 11/6
Road: 7 events between 3/6 and 11/6, plus Boston in April
Mountain: 7 events between 5/15 and 10/1, plus Mt Washington in June (really the Boston Marathon of mountain running), and you might even need to consider the Merrimack River Trail Race which has been the trail championship the last couple of years since it draws much of the same crowd

This isn’t even addressing indoor & outdoor track, which have more natural seasonal limitations and not really any comparable series to speak of. Of those 3 disciplines outlined above, I’d say XC has the only reasonable schedule for the runner looking to have different seasons and set up appropriate training blocks.

With the workload laid out for us, it’s hard enough to put together a good schedule in place for one discipline regardless of conflicts. This year’s road GP is a shitshow without even considering interference from XC and mountain (and vice versa). With road and mountain series that are so demanding and spread out across the calendar, there might not be a way to produce reasonable schedules that don’t conflict. That’s especially so when you consider that the schedule is largely dependent on who bids (although at least with the Mountain Series the schedule is fairly static). These aren’t races produced by the Association so our road schedule is hinging on the timing of the races that do decide to bid.

Since I really don’t see a big shift taking place, definitively pushing it to more in line with the approach of Team A or Team B, there needs to be some sort of compromise between the two competing ideals. One way of doing that is trimming the slates.

What if the road and mountain series each only had 6 races? that would potentially eliminate some conflicts and make it all more manageable. One that I would love to put first on the chopping block is the marathon, but I know many people out there won’t agree with that (and that’s okay). For the record, we could still have an Association marathon championship, but just not have it count in the series. wouldn’t it be nice if Boston was the association championship? So many runners around here do it anyway, and you have to qualify for it. The event just screams “CHAMPIONSHIP” as is. But it’s not. It’s just another Big Race. But I digress.

If the marathon stays, then why not eliminate the ‘wild card’ distance then? 5k, 5 mi, 10k, 10 mi, half marathon & marathon is quite enough. Did we really need to race a 20k this year? We already had a half marathon champion so now we’re crowning a 12.4 mile champion? Do we need to have Louis Serafini and Brian Harvey run off head to head in a 12.7 mile race to determine who the best 13ish mile runner is? Championships are supposed to make clear who the better runner is and this schedule just made it murky.

For the last two years now, the series has had 4 events 10 miles or longer. That’s more than half the schedule, and the races for many of us are too long to fit nicely into the training plan depending on what and when your target race is.

I spearheaded the All Terrain Runner Series as a way of introducing runners to disciplines they may not have tried before and to get them to consider participating in the other series. What I didn’t consider at the time was that, if successful, it would lead to frustration because then runners would be trying to do all the series and it’s quite a lot to handle. Even without the conflicts, that’s a lot of racing to try to get in if you want your Mountain Goat, Iron Runner and…Adamantium Harrier (not a thing but maybe it should be?) status.

For the second time in as many days, I’m going to share with you a very good idea that popped up in Dave Dunham’s Facebook ‘forum’ on this topic.

“I think the road series would get a serious boost from a championship race you have to qualify for at the end of the series. And then, combining with the rest of the season, the championship race determines a individual champion and a team champion. I think that would add a whole new level of commitment and excitement to the series kind of like how the national road series has the .us 12k championship to decide a winner. It would also make every race very competitive and we would all really benefit from it individually and team wise.”

Brilliant idea by one Mr. Pat Fullerton. That should be explored, along with the idea of scoring for every last card-carrying soul who lines up for these damn races. No more of this ‘top 10’ only BS. And if I hear that we’re going to keep doing ‘top 10’ only because ‘that’s what we’ve always done‘ then I might lose it. There may very well be a good reason to not change that, but that response there (cribbed from the Status Quo playbook) is unacceptable.

Back to Mr. Fullerton’s idea, some ways we can do qualifying:

  • Pick the distance and set qualifying marks for each age group, a la Boston. But that might make it too hard.
  • Take the top 100 runners or so in each age group based on total series points (scored like the mountain and ATR series). That ‘100’ number is just a placeholder. We’d have to see what number made sense. And maybe it shouldn’t be static, as different age groups have different participation numbers. Maybe somehow be based on a % of the participation numbers for each group (i.e. should the 70+ AG get the same qualifying slots as the open when there are far more open runners)?

What I like about basing it off of points is that elite runners can run a couple of big races and qualify while those not near the front can rack up the points by running all the races, thereby creating some sort of balance between the Team A and Team B types.

1300 words later and my original FB comment has grown out of control and into this beast of a blog post. But hopefully you stuck with me until the end here and maybe something came out of this that will lead to some healthy discussion about the series that we all know and love.

And lastly, if you’re opposed to some of these new ideas, please ask yourself why. Are you opposed to altering the road GP because “that’s the way it’s always been”? If so, then please reconsider. We’ll never improve anything if we keep doing things just because they were done that way in the past.

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2 Responses to A Tale of Two Teams

  1. #1: Don’t be greedy and expect three different series to line up so you can run in all of them!
    #2: Making Boston a championship means runners also have to commit to a qualifier. Seems like an odd recommendation from someone who’d just as soon eliminate marathons from the race series. And hurts teams without a lot of speedy depth.

  2. Alejandro Heuck says:

    #1 if you reduce the cap for older people make sure you also consider a time qualifier of some sort (above that you are in despite of the cap), If an age group is competitive enough, it is not a runner fault that not many people show up to the events.

    #2 the date for some races are published too late compared to the time you have to registered for major races (like Boston or NY). This year NE XC championship was set on the same day as the NY city marathon and you did not have the chance to choose (registration for NY have to be done way before the GP dates were set).

    Nice to have a place for these discussions.

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